Wash Post's Cohen gave Bush free pass on new British memo

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In a column that referred to the contents of a recently disclosed memorandum about a meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Richard Cohen wrote that "nothing so far proved that Bush knew he was making a false case" on Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction. But despite Cohen's description of Bush as "determined to make war almost no matter what," Cohen overlooked a different "false case" made by Bush: The memo indicates that all of Bush's statements suggesting that every effort was being made to avoid war with Iraq were apparently false.

In his March 30 column, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen referred to the contents of a recently disclosed British memorandum that reported on a meeting between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair six weeks before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cohen wrote that the memo indicated "even though Bush went back to the United Nations for yet another resolution condemning Iraq, he was determined to make war almost no matter what." Cohen added, however, that "nothing so far proved that Bush knew he was making a false case" on Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction. But in making that assertion, Cohen completely overlooked a different "false case" made by Bush: In light of the memo's clear indication, as Cohen wrote, that Bush "was determined to make war almost no matter what," all of his subsequent statements suggesting that every effort was being made to avoid war were apparently false.

As Media Matters previously noted, the day after The New York Times broke the story about the British memo and the Bush/Blair meeting, the major media that did cover the story, like Cohen, largely failed to note its significance.

From Cohen's March 30 Post column, titled "Bush Wanted War":

As for myself, I was told by a European intelligence official that after flying to Washington right after the 9/11 attacks, he was stunned to discover that talk had already turned to Iraq. This was particularly true at the Pentagon, where Paul Wolfowitz was obsessed with Iraq, and that seems to have been true of the White House as well. And now we know from various British accounts that close aides to Prime Minister Tony Blair recognized early on that Bush was going to go to war -- and that Blair, his poodle at obedient heel, would follow along. More recently we learned -- again from British sources -- that even though Bush went back to the United Nations for yet another resolution condemning Iraq, he was determined to make war almost no matter what.

None of this necessarily means that Bush doctored U.S. intelligence to make a purposely false case that Iraq was seething with weapons of mass destruction. There is plenty of evidence that others in the administration -- Dick Cheney, in particular -- exaggerated such that their pants must have caught fire, but nothing so far proved that Bush knew he was making a false case. Indeed, foreign intelligence sources were in agreement with Bush on Iraq's WMD and so were Clinton administration officials who had seen some of the same intelligence. Even within the Bush administration, critics of the war -- and there were some -- were just as convinced that Saddam had WMD. Colin Powell, you may recall, soiled his stellar reputation with a United Nations speech that is now just plain sad to read. Almost none of it is true.

In giving Bush the benefit of the doubt on WMD, Cohen ignored the significance of the British memo: it offers evidence that Bush, in his many public statements claiming that war with Iraq was the last resort, deliberately misled the American people. The memo, leaked to The New York Times and first reported on by it on March 27, describes a January 31, 2003, meeting between Bush and Blair. According to the Times' account, the memo states that Bush doubted United Nations weapons inspectors would find WMD in Iraq in the weeks prior to the invasion; that Bush felt a second U.N. resolution condemning Iraq was unnecessary to justify war; and that armed conflict was unavoidable. As Media Matters for America noted, these positions directly contradict Bush's public statements leading up to the March 2003 invasion, in which he explained that war was being "forced upon us," that "[m]ilitary force is always this nation's last option," and that the military conflict could be avoided if Iraq agreed to "[f]ull disarmament."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Richard Cohen
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.